Film Review: Fall in love with ‘The Big Sick’
That two people could overcome centuries-old cultural obstacles, the perils of modern dating and a critical illness and end up together is a great story. That those two people also managed to adapt their own great story into a great movie is a miracle.
It’s the wonder of ”The Big Sick ,” the must-see romantic comedy of the year. Sweet-natured, funny and genuine, you’re not likely to have a more pleasant time at the cinema this summer.
At the center is Kumail Nanjiani, the deft comedian who audiences might know from HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” He actually uses his full, real name in the film, which he co-wrote with his wife, Emily Gordon and based on their wild courtship. Emily has ceded her part to an actress, Zoe Kazan, who continues her very persuasive campaign to be the rom-com dream girl for those who fancy themselves better than rom-coms.
Kumail is a struggling stand-up comedian who pays the rent for his awful Chicago apartment by driving for Uber. When he’s not on the stage, or in the car, he’s at home with his family in the suburbs. They’re Pakistani and Muslim and have all had arranged marriages and expect Kumail to do the same. He’s managed to live a bit of a double life for a while — dating who he wants while also holding up the pretense of being a good Pakistani son. But everything changes when he meets Emily, the white grad student who he falls for and then loses when she realizes that he’s been hiding her from his family.
To be fair, they would literally disown him if he chose Emily over the scores of Pakistani ladies that “just drop by” their family dinners like clockwork, headshot and bio in hand. So Emily and Kumail break up. They have to. It’s a standard rom-com beat and obstacle. But then something happens: Kumail gets the call that Emily has been hospitalized, and the movie pivots into something entirely different and infinitely richer than most in the genre.
Suddenly he’s the one making the call to put her in a medically induced coma while also informing her parents, Terry and Beth (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) of their daughter’s health turn. Beth is none too happy to have her daughter’s ex-boyfriend lurking around during their family crisis, either. Hunter plays Beth, at first, with that scary and all too recognizable indifference of a mother who doesn’t care to humor the man who hurt her daughter. But, like everything, that evolves.
One of the really wonderful and telling things about “The Big Sick” is how fleshed out the world is around Kumail and Emily — from Kumail’s comedy friends (Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant and Kurt Braunohler), to his family (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar and Shenaz Treasury) and Emily’s parents, no supporting character is made into a caricature. Even the potential wives are given distinct and memorable personalities. Their presence is mined for comedy, but the women aren’t punchlines. It’s a delicate balance that “The Big Sick” gets just right.
If there is anything to pick on, it’s that we never get to know Emily as well as Kumail. It’s not her fault, she’s in a coma for most of the film, and we get a fair amount of color at the beginning, but her arc leaves a bit to be desired.
Michael Showalter’s direction isn’t flashy or stylish, either. His camera is there in service of the story and the characters and it doesn’t get in the way.
Some stories are too good to be true, and some true stories are too good for the movies. Luckily for us, “The Big Sick” is neither.
“The Big Sick,” an Amazon Studios and Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language including some sexual references.” Running time: 119 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr